Poet, critic, journalist and ‘antagonist’ Joshua Clover was born in 1962 in Berkeley, California. An alumnus of Boston University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Clover has published three volumes of poetry, Madonna anno domini (Louisiana State University Press, 1997), The Totality for Kids (University of California Press, 2006), and Red Epic (Commune Editions, 2015). His poems have also appeared three times in Best American Poetry, and he has written two books of film and cultural criticism: The Matrix (2005) and 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This to Sing About (2009). The winner of two Pushcart Prizes, Clover has received an individual NEA grant as well as the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. A former Holloway poet-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley, Clover currently is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis. His book Riot.Strike.Riot, on the political economy of struggle, will be published by Verso in 2016.
Joshua Clover is a poet committed to reshaping the way we see the world – not just reflecting upon it. In an interview conducted by Sarah Posman for the Flemish magazine nY, the author remarked that his 2009 book of cultural criticism 1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About was about the ‘secret sadness’ people felt back then around the absence of a broad and meaningful debate about what economic system we should be living in.
This particular sadness is also present throughout the pages of Madonna anno domini, Clover’s debut collection poetry from 1997. Written in San Cristóbal, Mexico, amidst the Zapatista uprising, Clover evokes America (‘this land Amnesia’, as it is called) as a gigantic suburban sprawl steeped in postmodern forgetfulness. In a characteristically allusive style, gesturing towards pop culture and high modernism alike and employing a wide thematic range, Clover offers an elegy for the 20th Century, deploring the decay of its revolutionary and utopian hopes. Yet his rhythmically driven poems remain witty and vital, forward looking instead of soaked in nostalgia. Following the German philosopher Walter Benjamin, who in his Arcades Project aimed to recover the utopian impulse from discarded materials found in 19th-century Paris, such as the famous arcades, Clover finds potential for transformation in the derelict landscape of late capitalist America. ‘From overhead it's possible / to speak of the whole thing’, he writes in the poem ‘Radiant city’, noting at the same time that this whole is at each and every moment marked by interruption: ‘First it was one thing then it was / one thing after another’.
The need for such an encompassing perspective in order to be able to change society – and its difficulty and displacement – lies at the heart of Clover’s poetry. He is unshaken by the belief that poetry and society are at a remove from each other, and actively risks totalization in his poetry. Or rather, he wants poetry to counteract the aggressive totalizations of power and the market. In doing so, Clover seeks to renew the social role of poetry for the 20th Century.
The influence of Benjamin can also be felt in Clover's next collection of poems, A Totality for Kids, from 2006. While in many ways a continuation of his first poetry book, Clover also seems to have found a way to look back at that book in a light-hearted yet serious way, for example in the poem ‘Early style’:
And sex at the level of
Around the littoral of first
Failures of the codex
Pointing out over this
Being being being-left-empty
Clover's most recent volume of poetry, Red Epic, came out in 2015 with Commune Editions – of which he is an editor, alongside Juliana Spahr and Jasper Bernes – and gives a new spin to the millennial and political themes from his previous books, this time post-Occupy. Interestingly, Clover recently rose to Twitter-fame with a story on why he quit writing for Spin, an American pop magazine. In this moving, funny and incisive chronicle of events, Clover recounts the reasons why he stopped writing for the magazine, all the while intermingling pop criticism, cultural critique and personal memoir, showing us some of the anxious atmosphere pervasive during the time of the September 11 attacks – which allegedly ended the last, ‘posthistorical’ decade of the twentieth century.
Madonna anno domini, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1997
The Totality for Kids, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2006
Red Epic, Commune Editions, Oakland, 2015
The Matrix (BFI Modern Classics), British Film Institute, London, 2005
1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This to Sing About, University of California Press, Oakland, 2009
Riot.Strike.Riot, Verso Books, London, 2016
Jean-Marie Gleize, Tarnac: a preparatory act, trans. Joshua Clover, Abigail Lang and Bonnie Roy, Kenning Editions, Chicago, 2014
In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni
Profile with three poems at the Poetry Foundation
Faculty profile page at UC Davis’ Department of English
Interview with Sarah Posman on nY
15-part commentary on Jacket2 by Clover, Juliana Spahr and Jasper Bernes (Commune Editions)
#HowIQuitSpin on Storify
‘Red Country: On Taylor Swift’, one of Clover’s regular music columns for The Nation
Interview with M.I.A. for The Believer
Video of ‘Spring Georgic,’ filmed by Andrew Kenower